Burrage v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: April 29, 2013
  • Case #: 12-7515
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 687 F.3d 1015 (8th Cir. 2012)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death under 21 U.S.C. §841 is a strict liability crime; and (2) whether jury instructions which allow a conviction by distribution of heroin which "contributed to" death, but was not the sole cause.

Petitioner sold heroin which was subsequently found in a “mixed-drug intoxication” death. Due to the presence of other drugs, experts could not state for certain if heroin caused the death. A jury convicted Petitioner of distribution of heroin and distribution of heroin resulting in death in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). At trial Petitioner moved for a new trial alleging erroneous jury instructions and prosecutorial misconduct. The district court denied the motion and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari. Petitioner argues that the Court should resolve the split among the circuits as to whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death under 21 U.S.C. §841 is a strict liability crime, without a foreseeable or proximate cause requirement. Petitioner also argues that the lower court's error is not harmless because the phrase “results from”, used in the Seventh Circuit, and model instructions would result in a different outcome than the “contributed to,” language used in the Eighth Circuit.

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